‘Hack The Planet’ The Ethics of Hacktivism

In this week’s lecture I was introduced to ‘The Conscience of a Hacker’ a manifesto written by hacker called +++The Mentor+++ in 1986. Reading it I couldn’t help but be reminded of the ‘The Cyberpunk Manifesto’ written by Christian Kirtchev in 1997. I took the liberty of chopping a few bits of each to highlight their similarity.

This is our world now, the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud… We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn’t run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals…You may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us all- after all, we’re all alike.

We are the ELECTRONIC MINDS, a group of free-minded rebels. We live in Cyberspace, we are everywhere, we know no boundaries. We are those, the different. Technological rats, swimming in the ocean of information… We are the student hacking computer systems, exploring the depth of his reach…Our society is sick and needs to be healed. The cure is a change in the system… We fight for freedom of information. We fight for freedom of speech and press…. We are a unit. We are Cyberpunks.

This was my first time reading ‘The Conscious Hacker’ but ‘The Cyberpunk Manifesto’ is something that I have read countless times before as I am obsessed its anarchist undertones and the idealistic sense of freedom it promises. After looking at the two comparatively it really made me notice how hacking is so closely tied to cyberpunk ideologies. In cyberpunk novels the outcast anti-hero inevitably breaks all the rules in order to take down the evil establishment and save the world from its villainous clutches. While this is an epic perception of hacking that after watching films like Hackers and shows like MR Robot I so desperately want to be true, I have to ask myself, can the act of hacking ever be as justified as it is in cyberpunk works of fiction? Can the real world be broken down into black and white simplifications of heroes vs villains? Is there really such a thing as Hacktivism?

 

So this week I set out to determine what the ethical perspectives of hacking are. There are those that see hacking as a way of standing up for injustices and liberating people from imposed censorship. This act of hacking is seen as justified by the perpetrators as they believe the censorship is unfairly enforced and therefore a law that deserves to be broken. An example of this would be the collaboration between The Cult of the Dead Cow and The Hong Kong Blondes who launched attacks against the Chinese government to protest government censorship of Internet content. They compromised a firewall system in China, allowing Internet users in that country unrestricted access to the Web for a brief period of time and they also defaced several Chinese governmental websites.

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Hacktivism is often confused with cyberterrorism but a boundary between the two can be drawn depending on one’s definition of ‘damage’. It is important to remember that not all hacking involves breaking into systems, spying or even damaging data. Hacktivisim can be as simple as a denial-of-service attack where all that occurs is a mass volume of people generate so much traffic on a website that it crashes and no legitimate users can access it. This type of hacking is seen as a mere extension civil disobedience into the internet realm. “Civil disobedience entails the peaceful breaking of unjust laws, it does not condone violent or destructive acts against its enemies, focusing instead on nonviolent means to expose wrongs, raise awareness, and prohibit the implementation of perceived unethical laws by individuals” (Manion & Goodrum). In this instance the hackers see no difference between this and picketing in the street to deny people access to a building. “Activists here are attempting to bring about social change through non-violent means; whereas activists in the past trespassed and blockaded physical positions of power, hacktivists now would seize control of the new positions of power—cyberspace—and without all those nasty guns, water cannons, dogs, billy clubs and tear gas” (Julie Thomas).

There are those however who believe denial-of-service attacks to be against the hacker code because they themselves are a form of censorship and violate the right to free speech- which in the true roots of the hacker culture is a fundamental law that must never be broken (even if it is against your enemies). One of the world’s most famous hackers who believes whole heartedly in this ideal is Julian Assange, he has no qualms about sneaking into closed systems and revealing private information but does not believe in the destruction of information in any way. Assange is practically a pure personification of the old school hacker mentality in that he is a utilitarian extremist who promotes the total transparency of information. To him, his actions are justified because as all information should be free regardless of consequence. What people chose to do with the information does not change the fact that it should not be kept hidden. Absolute truth is the only moral decisional direction.

In the end the ethics of hacking all comes down to the age old question of does ends justify the means? While different hackers have different codes of ethics and different definitions of damage, every act is circumstantial and instead of being broken down into wright and wrong should be judged in term of what was stood to be gained and at what cost?

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Global Warming and Media Warning

Global Warming you’ve all heard about. With the level of media saturation it gets, there is no escape from the constant reminders of our impending doom. But the question is do you truly believe in it, or is it all just another load of fear mongering hype?

According to some statics I got off of a news report on  television once 90% of scientists believe that climate change is real but still there is 1 in 10 American citizens who believe it isn’t. Why is this? well the answer is simple. The doubt that arises for Global Warmings existence is caused by a little thing called ‘False Balance‘. False Balance relates to the ethical code of journalism in which a journalist, for the sake of un-biased reporting, must always equally represent both sides of an argument. So theoretically for every journal article, newspaper headline or television documentary that exists about global warming there must be one that opposes it. Not that this is actual case might I add, I mean I literally just typed global warming into Google and out of the top 10 results that came up all of them were about the proof that climate change exists. It wasn’t until I moved on to the next page and saw the 11th result that I found an article opposing it.

At the risk of sounding like a nonbeliever worthy of shunning or worse death by climate change, I would like to take a moment to say that I am somewhat skeptical of Global Warming. Before you start attacking me, which believe happens when I say this in public, just let me explain. Our planet has always experienced massive climate adjustments long before people ever got involved.Take the ice age for example. This is just a theory though the fundamental reason for my skepticism is that it is just really hard for me to believe what I see in the media. Simple as that. What I continually read and hear about climate change seems to never be the opinion of experts but rather the rantings of a politician with an underlying political agenda or the sob story of a heartfelt reporter who conveniently cares more about single-handedly saving the environment with their hard hitting journalism, than actually providing real information.

So when it comes to believing I am a little hesitant and am actually supportive of being able to hear both sides of the story. At the same time though I cannot deny that the evidence is there, I mean I was at Soundwave this year for what was the ‘hottest day on record’ and let me tell you… It Was Hot!

I often think to my self that it is crazy to think that the level of pollution we generate globally each day can’t be having an impact on the environment. Anyway I could sit here and debate Global Warming with myself all day long, the point I am trying to make is more along he lines of… Is it a reporters job to follow a code of ethics at the risk of endangering humanity; by simply reporting un-biased facts that outline multiple perspectives or is it their role to (as Bud Ward suggests) ‘give voice to the voiceless’.
If we operate under he assumption that climate change is real, than yes it is the reporters job to spread this information and to stress urgency in order to initiate change; in which case the idea of false balance being used to deny reality is ludicrous and actually putting us in danger. However if we operate under the assumption that it is not than false balance is the only thing protecting us from falling victim to the fear mongering agendas of corrupt politicians and media journalists.

Pro-Anti Slacktivism

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It seems everybody these days has the potential to become a social activist. With convergence the way it is, all you really need is an issue and a smartphone.

With your Iphone in hand it’s easy to make that new campaign page on Facebook, spread your message on BlogPress, rally those supporters on Linked-In, organize that mass event on Twitter, record that protest you made and edit it into a hard-hitting, life changing, emotional masterpiece on Imovie and then upload it straight to YouTube where it can be streamed and shared to people all over the world.

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So in a way ,yes, it is true that apptivism (as I like to call it) “has the potential to transform the spontaneous outburst of demonstrations and renewed interest in the radical left into a coherent, highly organized and efficient movement” (Adam Waldron 2010), but at the same time, what we are seeing nowadays is not legitimate and effective activism but rather the creation of a passive ‘slacktivist’ culture in which people would rather like a Facebook page than actually go out and try to make a difference. Micah White argued in The Guardian that ‘digital activists’ promoting ‘clicktivism’ are endangering the very ‘possibility of an emancipatory revolution in our lifetimes’. This is something that I half agree with.

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The First thing we need to look at when examining the role of ‘digital activism’ is to look at the motives of those involved. When people support these causes are they doing it because they are legitimately concerned about the issue or are they doing to make themselves feel good about doing good. Maybe they want others to think their making a difference, or maybe they’re just pro-anti (supporting or going against something for the sake of supporting or going against it).

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The Next thing we need to look at is the level of impact ‘digital activism’ has. Is it really that effective? I mean yes, it gathers support for issues and yes it has the potential to generate mass awareness, but does it have the potential to generate actual change? Personally believe that yes it can, but at the same time I feel that no it doesn’t and this only because my personal experience with online activism has been witnessing a whole bunch of online communities discussing their concerns but doing nothing about them (This is called slacktivism). How does liking a page on Facebook or re-tweeting a link make a difference offline?

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Don’t get me wrong though, I do believe online activism has potential. Take the Occupy Wall Street protests for example, originally a protest encampment that started out with a few dozen students and unemployed university graduates. Within weeks it inspired thousands of New Yorkers to join, and spawned scores of similar protests around the country. (Click here for Source). And look at Kony 2012, that campaign literally took the world by storm, for a while it was everywhere; it was all everyone was talking about. There is no doubt that it raised awareness on a mass global scale and got thousands of people all over the world involved. However, I still am unsure of whether to call that campaign a success or not because I am still asking myself the question, what did it actually achieve. Other than inform people of an injustice, what political change did it make? and now a year later, no one is talking about it anymore, it seems to have just faded away without any real significance.

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In order for ‘clicktivist’ campaign to be successful I feel it needs to call people to action offline, not just gather support and awareness online, but I can’t deny that it’s a good start and I have no doubt that online activism could and will lead to some major social and political changes in the near future.

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